It appears that the time has come for Ben Smith. After years of floating around the proverbial “bubble,” and on the edge of the NHL, the Chicago Blackhawks winger has certainly earned a legitimate full-time roster spot, aided by the departure of Michael Frolik from the fourth line during this offseason. But it’s certainly been earned by Smith this training camp and preseason.
Smith was his own biggest critic throughout training camp, and he had to be. After all, Smith had to know from the second he glided onto the ice at the University of Notre Dame that this was by far his best chance to solidify himself on the Blackhawks’ full-time roster.
After debuting in the 2010, Smith scored three goals in the 2011 championship playoffs, putting him into the “bubble” where he would remain despite splitting prominent time between AHL Rockford and the NHL. The organization’s confidence in Smith was proven during last season’s playoffs, when out of all the healthy scratches, Smith was chosen to replace the injured Marian Hossa.
Smith did not play in yesterday’s shootout win against the Washington Capitals, but has filled up the stat sheet for the Blackhawks so far. A key goal helped lead the ‘Hawks in the preseason opener, but Smith’s big game against the Pittsburgh Penguins may prove to be a career-defining moment. Smith not only had two points (one goal and an assist), but a +2 rating and three takeaways. After getting the night off yesterday, it will be interesting to see how coach Joel Quenneville uses Smith throughout the remainder of the preseason.
It also all but confirms the post-preseason fate of both Brandon Bollig and Jimmy Hayes. Bollig saw substantial time last season including the playoffs, and since Jamal Mayers retired, Bollig will continue to move up the bench and see even more games this year, as he refines himself from a fighter to a complete player. For Hayes, he would slot in nicely to the fourth line, especially if Marcus Kruger can continue to develop, and possibly center the fourth line in place of Dave Bolland.
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